The Truth Behind Joan Crawford Leaving 'Hush... Hush'

by Caitlin Flynn
Byron Cohen/FX

The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford really was one for the ages — and it hardly ended when the duo finished filming What Happened to Baby Jane? Despite a bitter battle at the Oscars, they begrudgingly agreed to work together one more time with Baby Jane director Robert Aldrich, this time on the 1964 thriller Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. If you're thinking, "I never knew Davis and Crawford worked together again," you're mostly correct — Crawford quit the film due to an alleged illness and was replaced by Davis' friend, Olivia de Havilland. Needless to say, this change-up in casting caused a great deal of chaos on set.

According to TCM, Crawford initially accepted the role of Miriam on the condition that she be given top billing. Davis agreed to the billing condition, as long as she was paid more than Crawford. Less than a week after shooting commenced, Crawford dropped out entirely and cited illness as the reason for her absence on set.

Upon Crawford's withdrawal from Sweet Charlotte, offscreen drama ensued once again. In the book Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Alain Silver and James Ursini wrote that:

"Reputedly, Crawford was still incensed by Davis' attitude on Baby Jane and did not want to be upstaged again, as Davis' nomination for Best Actress convinced her she had been. Crawford worked only four days in all of July. Because she had told others that she was feigning illness to get out of the movie entirely, Aldrich was in an even worse position… [He] hired a private detective to record [Crawford's] movements."

Upon Crawford's withdrawal, shooting was suspended indefinitely until a replacement could be found — and the situation put the future of Sweet Charlotte in jeopardy. De Havilland was less than enthused about joining the cast, but she did so as a favor to her longtime friend Davis.

Byron Cohen/FX

So, what's the deal with Crawford's illness and subsequent withdrawal from Sweet Charlotte? During filming, she was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital with an upper respiratory ailment and "other vague symptoms and syndromes," according to Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography. According to Shaun Considine's book Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud, Aldrich was informed that Crawford was suffering from a case of dysentery​​ and an excessively high blood count. She was released for Cedars Sinai in late June, only to be admitted two days later with a diagnosis of pneumonia. Production was halted to allow Crawford time to recover, but when she returned to the set, Considine writes that she departed at around noon each day. Aldrich was reportedly willing to work around Crawford's illness, but she allegedly repeatedly requested extended breaks due to her health.

By July 31, Considine writes that Crawford agreed to undergo a medical examination by the production's insurance doctor. The doctor concluded that, although she was suffering from symptoms of a severe cold, her medical condition didn't warrant her absence on set, according to Considine's book. On August 10, a press release from Crawford confirmed that she expected to be replaced, and she thought Loretta Young would be a wonderful replacement. Two weeks later, she was reportedly devastated that Olivia de Havilland was named her replacement. She allegedly told reporters that, "I'm used to people looking me in the eye, not this indirect treatment."

Feud takes a great deal of artistic license, but its overarching message is clear and important — although Crawford and Davis are certainly not the most sympathetic actors to grace our screens, they were frequently used as pawns by a sexist, ageist industry that (unfortunately) has made very few strides in the decades since Baby Jane's release.